John Keim is taking a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ roster entering training camp. So far, he’s reviewed linebackers, the defensive line, the offensive line, running back, cornerbacks and safeties. Today, it’s the tight ends:
Returning starters: Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen
Key backups: Niles Paul
Key additions: Jordan Reed
The rest: Emmanuel Ogbuehi
Decisions: There aren’t many, as the Redskins likely will keep four tight ends on the roster (teams typically carry three at most). And keeping four will require them to keep one less player at another position (receiver perhaps?). It helps that Paulsen and Paul play special teams, with the latter developing into a standout. After Reed sat out all of spring workouts, he most likely won’t contribute immediately. So keeping four makes sense — and three of them have good speed for this position.
Burning questions: (1) Can Davis remain effective coming off an Achilles’ tendon tear? At one point this offseason (before Davis signed his contract), Coach Mike Shanahan said players coming off this injury often don’t get back to 100 percent. Others who have suffered similar injuries say as long as you do your rehab you won’t notice a drop-off. That would be good news for Davis, whose strength is athleticism and speed. Davis has progressed enough that he doesn’t solely rely on those attributes; he’s a more reliable route-runner, for example, and has improved as a blocker. He’s still faster than Paulsen, who found himself open quite a bit in this offense. Why? Because the way it fools the defense’s eyes with misdirection and play-action, enabling tight ends and fullbacks to sometimes sneak into the clear. Athleticism then takes over. Davis might not be a 70-catch player (he was on pace for 55 when he got hurt last season), but he should be a big part of the offense, especially as Robert Griffin III progresses as a passer. A healthy and productive Davis paired with wide receiver Pierre Garcon would result in a strong passing attack. Keep in mind, too, that this is (yet another) contract year for Davis. He needs to prove he can be productive for 16 games.
(2) What does Reed offer? Athleticism and promise. Again, the lack of activity this spring while he recovered from a thigh contusion didn’t help him. He has a lot to learn, having spent just two full seasons as a tight end at Florida, where he started as a quarterback and split time between the positions before his junior year. But his athleticism was evident on film as he caught passes many tight ends would not have. Someday he’ll be excellent as a receiver, whether out of the backfield or on the move or split wide. He’s a potential matchup headache for defenses, especially when paired with Davis. Reed is several years away from being the quality blocker Davis is. He struggled mightily when blocking in college; it wasn’t just about technique. It will take time, but his potential in the receiving game and ability to gain yards after the catch will make the Redskins patient. There will be some things he’ll be able to showcase this season.
(3) Is there still room for Paulsen? Of course. He’s a good blocker and showed he has strong hands to be an occasional threat in the passing game, even with Davis around. Paulsen caught just 13 passes in the final eight games (after catching 13 in his first three post-Davis injury). He improved his consistency as a blocker last season and in the stretch zone scheme; it’s a necessity to have two tight ends who can block. Paulsen did a much better job with hand placement and did not get pushed back as many times on outside runs as he did in 2011. That resulted in better runs for the backs. Paulsen isn’t a threat after the catch, but he does a good job holding onto the ball in heavy traffic.
What to watch for: Niles Paul’s development. He’s not a budding Shannon Sharpe, the Hall of Fame tight end who converted from receiver, but he doesn’t need to be to help the Redskins. If Paul progresses it would add another dimension to the offense because of his speed. He did not always play to his speed as a receiving threat last season, but Paul admitted part of that stemmed from running routes from a new spot. In the past — as a rookie and while playing at Nebraska — he always ran routes on the outside; now he was doing it inside and from different angles and sometimes amid more congestion. Good or bad, it took him time to adjust to catching passes because of it (the ball would arrive quicker) – and it might have contributed to the too many dropped passes he had in 2012. At least that’s what he hopes. He did catch the ball better this spring. As a blocker Paul saw that his athleticism alone would not help him succeed, as he said he thought it would after spring workouts a year ago. He talked about that last season and again during the spring and the need to take better angles and use better technique, particularly with his hands. He’s still much better when he can block on the move or in space, where he excelled as a receiver in the run game two years ago. This was a crucial offseason for Paul. Last year he transitioned to tight end, but this past offseason he was able to work on what he learned. Next week we’ll start to see how much it helped.
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